The death of Saleem Shahzad brings to three the high profile political assassinations in Pakistan this year. Like Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minorities, Shahzad also refused to bow to the ISI — whom he named directly. On the cusp of revealing high level rogue military involvement in the attacks on the Mehran-Karachi naval base on Dunya tv he was taken into custody and killed.
Shahzad fought to show the real workings of the Pakistan military/ISI state which have been so obscured through a long-term programme to its citizens of state propaganda, jingoism, conspiracy theories and disinformation. He had evidence of their sponsorship of extremism and their involvement in the 2008 Mumbai bombings.
More pernicious has been the long drip of propaganda to the ordinary people in Pakistan through Urdu medium television and newspapers, a proportion of which are owned or have some journalists in pay by the ISI. A senior Pakistan editor tweeted in response to decades of disinformation: “We as a nation are so used to conspiracy theories, it sickens me. CIA/RAW/Mossad/Blackwater are NOT killing our people. WAKE UP” @mehmal. She continued: “No difference between the army/ISI/Taliban/al-Qaeda/jihadis/fanatics/bigots: they will all kill you whenever they want”.
But there are signs after the Abbottabad raid that the ISI may be in disarray. The information on the cache of 100 memory sticks found at the Bin Laden compound is in US hands; the rogue elements of the ISI do not know to what extent it blows the lid on their involvement with al Qaeda and indeed their own networks. And they are facing a hostile press in Pakistan, although it has succumbed before to ISI sweeteners and the usual line that the army is protecting the country.
In any case, it isn’t the English language middle-classes that need enlightenment. To bring change to the regime, the combined media will have to blow away decades of falsity and deceit to the ordinary and impoverished people of Pakistan . Most notably that the enemy is not without but within, and that the military has misled the state and its people over decades.
The lower ranks of the army in their assaults in north and south Waziristan were always told that India was sponsoring the Taliban. Anatol Lieven, who recounted this, also pointed out that in WW2 a troop of Breton soldiers were found to get a greater spring in their step when they were told that they were off to fight the British. India, which is not innocent of its own media-led anti Pakistani propaganda, is favourable to peace and improved trade, but with China putting pressure on its Himalayan borders, would probably settle over Kashmir and would welcome an EU type federation of subcontinental states.
Shahzad was an exceptionally courageous man because he was aware of the likely outcome of his reporting. He left a statement with Human Rights Watch that should he disappear, he had been receiving threats and the ISI was responsible.
In Pakistan the crucial state communication structure is creaking under the weight of disinformation the regime has put out and the fear and intimidation that they have used to keep it in place.
Syed Saleem Shahzad, like Taseer and Bhatti, were silenced because full-knowing the risks, they said no.
Catriona Luke is a freelance writer and editor.